National / Science & Health

Nobel laureate Tasuku Honjo says Osaka pharmaceutical firm short-changed him for cancer drug

Kyodo

Nobel laureate Tasuku Honjo said Wednesday he is involved in a dispute over license fees under a patent agreement with Ono Pharmaceutical Co., which sells a cancer treatment drug developed based on his research.

Honjo and his lawyer told reporters that he refused to accept the company’s offer of about ¥2.6 billion, and instead forwarded the funds to the Legal Affairs Bureau, because he believes the company shortchanged him by giving him an inadequate explanation about his compensation when they signed the agreement in 2006.

“I would like to discuss with the company about increasing my remuneration in line with (the drug’s) sales,” he said.

The discovery of the protein PD-1 by Honjo and his team in 1992 later led to the development of the drug Opdivo, which triggers the immune system to attack cancer cells.

Ono Pharmaceutical started selling it in 2014 and it is usually used to treat skin and lung cancer.

“We treat him with respect but (what he says) greatly deviates from the current agreement,” said a spokesman at Osaka-based Ono Pharmaceuticals, though he declined to give details.

Honjo said he wished to donate money derived from patent sales to a foundation supporting young researchers set up by Kyoto University, where he is a distinguished professor. He has already done so with the money he received as part of his Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which he won last year.

This is not the first time that a Japanese Nobel laureate has sparred with a company selling products based on the scientist’s discoveries.

Shuji Nakamura, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2014, settled a suit with chemical-maker Nichia Corp. in 2005 over patent rights compensation related to his blue light-emitting diode technology.